The Illusions of Radical Social Democrats or Social Reformers about the Extent of the Impact of the Current Educational Workers Strike Wave in Ontario


Educational workers in Ontario were set to strike on Friday November 4, 2022. Premier Doug Ford not only passed legislation that makes the strike illegal but used the “notwithstanding clause” in the Constitution to prevent legal challenges to such legislation for five years. This measure has indeed galvanized the workers’ movement, to a certain extent. 

John Clarke, a radical social democrat here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has this to say about the recent strike wave of educational workers (from Facebook): 

At this moment in Ontario, tens of thousands of education workers are defying the government and fighting back. Much greater numbers of working class people are looking to this with hope and drawing strength from it.


Yet, I’m utterly astounded by how many comments I see on Facebook and Twitter, coming from those with generally left perspectives, that hammer out the refrain that people sat at home and let the Tories get elected, so they deserve everything they get. A couple of points need to be made about this.
Firstly, don’t overestimate the difference that would have been made by an alternative electoral outcome. Certainly, the Ford Tories are the most clear cut representatives of the present regressive agenda but the fundamental thrust of the attack would be playing out had there been a different result at the ballot box. Bluntly, if you conclude that electing social democratic politicians means a just society without the need to fight for it, you haven’t been paying much attention to what’s been happening in the world.


Secondly, and more importantly, in thousands of ways, this society works to prevent working class people drawing the conclusion that they can act together in their own interests and win. Indeed, we are living in a period when such an understanding has been rendered especially difficult to draw. Yet, we find ourselves at this moment and a powerful struggle is underway. We should be thinking about how we can take it forward and draw into it other workers and communities that are under such sharp attack.


A moment of possibility for mass action and a major victory on this scale hasn’t existed in this province for more than twenty years. The class struggle is such an explosive force precisely because it involves sudden leaps in thought, when masses of people who saw no way forward come to life and act together. This could be such a time and the issue is to do all we can to ensure that it is as powerful and effective as it possibly can be.
Having attended the picket line and rally on Friday, November 4, I certainly felt that these workers were angry and that others supported them (several signs indicated parents were supportive of the strike). However, there was little recognition of the need to go beyond the social conditions that already exist. In other words, the organizing was mainly defensive, not offensive. 
What was being defended was “free collective bargaining”–and there was little indication that anyone had any aims that went beyond that. There is little wonder of that given the lack of ideological struggle by the radical left against the limitaitons of “free collective bargaiing,” on the one hand, and the lack of aiming for social relations beyond a refurbished welfare state on the other. Clarke himself, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, does not really aim to go beyond an enhanced welfare state. Thus, he acknowledges economic coercion, but he has not indicated how we are to overcome it.
Furthermore, given that the picket line/rally that I attended occurred around the provincial legislative buildings, a radical leap in thought would have at least referred to the few police who were within sight (undoubtedly, there were many more waiting and available for deployment if the government considered it advisable). There was no such reference. Indeed, one of the speakers at the rally, J.P. Hornick, leader of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, had defended correction officers previously (I will post something on that theme later on). 
Whatever the outcome of this strike, I doubt that there will be “sudden leaps in thought”–such a vague term because the ideological work required to wear away at the faith of the “free collective bargaining system” has not been instituted by the radical left. 

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